Every leader knows this truth – change is inevitable. If our organizations don’t change, then they will become irrelevant and eventually die. I’ve watched too many churches in my city close their doors recently. I’ve talked to several pastors who know that because their board or church was unwilling to change that they now face insurmountable challenges resulting in people leaving and giving in decline. Healthy change is a necessity, not just for survival, but to actually thrive. 

The changes could be the need to move to a more community-based discipleship process or even just creating a discipleship process. It might mean changing the music style. It might mean changing the preaching style. It could be changing the types of meetings offered or the times they meet. The hardest kinds of change require changing leaders who refuse to move forward for the good of the church. 

Here’s what I’ve come to view as a classic formula regarding change. Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. Change is painful. A wise and thoughtful leader knows they can’t eliminate any part of that formula. So the question is – are you going to face the inevitable and necessary pain of change?

Part of the problem is that we allow our churches, our leaders, our congregation, our staff, and our stakeholders to focus on the change! I know the irony of that statement. But the focus shouldn’t actually be on the change(s), but on the reasons WHY we need to change. 

Change is not the point. It’s a huge mistake to verbally focus on the need to change and the change itself. We tend to start, focus on, harp on, and end with what is changing. So we focus on changing the music style, the meeting times, starting or stopping a beloved program. But that actually gets us off track. The why of the change almost always gets too little attention and time when we need to look at change. What’s the point of the change? Why is it inevitable and necessary? If you don’t remember anything else, remember this – If you need to make a change, focus on the why.

During the time I became the Lead Pastor at our church, our growth had stagnated, meaning that for every new person who came someone else left. There was lots of talk about “closing the back door.” The focus was that if we just the bucket from leaking, then the bucket would get full. It makes total logical sense. But I was convinced the issue was that our front door wasn’t wide enough or attractive enough. People will always leave (move, get distracted, fall away or get mad and leave). What we needed to do was to be more intentional about reaching more of the emerging generations who were not connected to God or a church community. That meant we had to change a lot of things including the worship style, preaching style, have a robust guest service system, add a distinct discipleship pathway and much more. Those are the “whats” that people see, experience, have personal preferences about and get invested in. People get upset and frustrated over changing the whats! So I focused early on the why of change.

I started preaching on the why – we have to do whatever we can do to reach people not connected to God or a faith community. I spoke to our leaders and had them read books about the why like Andy Stanely’s Deep and Wide. I met groups that I thought would struggle most with the changes and talked about the why and how it directly would address what they actually valued the most. For example, I met with our seniors’ group a couple of times a year and remind them that the changes we were making were not ones they would like personally, but were changes that would bring and keep their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Over time, that was in fact the case and our wonderful seniors have been my greatest cheerleaders. 

So we can’t just focus on the what. We have to focus on the why…first, continually, always. But we can’t stop there either. We also have to focus on the process. 

The very nature of change is messy. We need to plan and prepare the best we can for change. But too many leaders get bogged down in trying to get it right and make it perfect so that they don’t actually make the necessary changes. You’ve heard of the paralysis of analysis. Change gets lost in board and committee approvals. Here’s the honest truth about change: We must approach change as responsibly as we can with good planning and communication, but in the end, I love the “philosophy” of Indiana Jones. As he was facing an unexpected crisis he declared:  “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” Bold, brave leaders often, in the midst of change, figure it out as he or she goes.

We live in a world that is accelerating change in every way. So it is foolish to think we can plan out the change in every detail. The fact is that most of us who innovate change do just like Indiana Jones, we make it up as we go! If we waited to figure out everything we need to know, plan every detail and get every single person on board, then we’ll be stuck and the lack of change will keep doing its damage. 

This actually drives us back to the One we need to go to. We start by praying because we don’t know. We seek wisdom and advice from others as we are trying to figure things out. But once we are clear and convicted on the changes that need to happen, we make sure we overcommunicate the why. You can’t overcommunicate the why. You’ll get tired of telling the why long before you have actually over-communicated it. Then you take the first reasonable steps and keep figuring it out as you go.

Next, remember that change is a work in progress. Celebrate the progress, not the change!

Finally, create a culture of change for the future. One of the greatest compliments I got was from a local pastor that I’m good friends with. When I started actually making the changes I mentioned earlier, a number of really good folks left our church to go to his church. He told me that one of the reasons they gave him for changing churches was that our church changes all the time. That was a compliment in my mind. That’s exactly what we want. You see, I want to create a culture that gets used to change and even learns to welcome change. That makes staying current, relevant and ahead of the change curve so much easier for everyone. 
By the way, I host a group called Pastors’ Edge. It’s a monthly group for lead pastors, senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, co-pastors, and campus pastors (pastors who have responsibility for leading the whole church). We meet the first Thursday of the month from 11am-1pm with a free lunch at Journey Church in Tucson, AZ. On October 3rd our topic is Leading the Charge for Change with Bud Brown. Bud will be speaking about how the message of the Gospel never changes, yet every church must continually change and adapt, or it will stagnate and become irrelevant or ineffective. There are key understandings and skills that must be used to lead healthy necessary change. Change will always be hard and painful and there are ways to ensure that the change is worth the pain. If you are in the Tucson area, join us.

Here’s my first Leading Edge blog post! Thanks for subscribing! I thought I would start my blog with the 4 books I recommend to every church leader. We all learn to lead in different ways. Conferences are great. Mentoring is essential. Experience is invaluable. But reading is one of the key ways I learn and most leaders learn. I can’t encourage you enough to make the discipline of reading a priority.

The books I share below are books that I actually took our leadership team through and we used to develop our ministry. These books prompted hours of prayer and reflection on my part which led to leadership retreats, meetings, and eventually new ways of doing church. I especially recommend these books for anyone who has recently become a lead pastor or started a church or is ready to turn their church around. I believe these books, though some have a church focus, have many applications to non-profits and businesses as well.

#1 Church Unique – How Missional Leaders Cast Vision, Capture Culture, and Create Movement by Will Mancini. You can see by the title and subtitle how critical this book is. When I first became the Lead Pastor of Pantano I took my executive team through this book and we develop our “vision frame.” The vision frame is the clarity of your vision surrounded by a frame that covers your mission mandate, your values and motives, your key strategies and the mark or measurements of success. This has provided us a guide and blueprint for moving our church toward truly impacting our culture.

See the Church Unique Visual Summary pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#2 The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. In 2012, God made it clear to me that the health of our staff and church was to be a priority. That same year The Advantage was published – thank God! Lencioni maintains that organizational health is dependent on a cohesive leadership team that has and communicates clarity. I took our executive team through the book and we developed our playbook from the 6 questions that create clarity.  

Click here and go to “Free Tools and Resources” for a summary of the principles or disciplines of The Advantage. See our Pantano Christian Church Playbook 2.0 pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

#3  Deep and Wide – Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend by Andy Stanley. This is a must read book if you want to reach unchurched people while serving those who already follow Jesus. This book provides inspiration as well as practical strategies to help people find God and a church community. I’ve had all my key leaders read and discuss this book!

#4 The 4 Disciplines of Execution – Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals by McChesney, Covey and Huling. Our entire leadership now focuses on one big WIG (Wildly Important Goal) at a given moment. That’s the first discipline. But big important goals don’t just happen. Execution is actually rare in most organizations. The other three disciplines help you execute: acting on lead measures, developing a scorecard and then creating accountability. We practice this for every WIG and the results have been stellar. See the overview video here, the content overview here and the summary of The Four Disciplines of Execution pdf on the Leading Edge website under resources.

I would read the books in the order I listed them. But make the commitment to actually do the work each requires. And honestly, it will take you a long time, likely years, to actually do what these books suggest. But the results are so worth it.

And please share with us some of your “must read” books and why they are a must read!